Water policy and resources moves from Agriculture to Infrastructure

By Stephen Easton

Friday November 15, 2019

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The Department of Agriculture’s responsibilities for water policy and resources will be taken over by the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development from December 1.

New administrative arrangement orders were signed and sealed by the Governor-General David Hurley on Thursday to make the change official.

These departmental responsibilities include a range of programs and offices related to the Commonwealth’s role in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan as well as the National Water Initiative and programs related to marine, urban, and fresh water quality.

This means a change in administrative support arrangements for the relatively new Office of the Inspector-General of Murray-Darling Basin Water Resources, currently occupied by former Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty, who is awaiting the passage of legislation that will provide him with independence and investigatory powers similar to a royal commission.

Keelty recently told The Saturday Paper various government agencies had failed to respond to his requests for information, or provided false or incomplete information, so he is keen to have the power to compel the production of documents. The article suggests he may report some allegations of bureaucratic obstruction to the government later this year.

Once accommodated within the Infrastructure portfolio, perhaps Keelty will fire a few requests back to his former hosts in the Agriculture department after the legislation is passed.

Perhaps now the Infrastructure Department will also take over the solemn duty of publishing the online newsletter, Water Matters.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, as the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, will now administer several new pieces of legislation that were previously the responsibility of Bridget McKenzie, the Minister for Agriculture.

He is assisted by six other ministers in the portfolio, including David Littleproud, who is responsible for water resources. The new AAO amendment gives McCormack responsibility for several acts related to water:

  • the Lake Eyre Basin Intergovernmental Agreement Act 2001;
  • Sewerage Agreement Acts;
  • the Water Act 2007, except to the extent administered by the Environment Minister;
  • the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Act 2005; and
  • the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (Registration Fees) Act 2013.

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